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Why does the universe exist? | Jim Holt


Life in the universe | The Economist

Does life exist anywhere else in the universe? And how did it get started? Scientists are seeking the answers in the cosmos, our solar system and right here on planet Earth.

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Is there life elsewhere in the universe? Anyone who has pondered the immensity of the cosmos has probably wondered at some time or another whether life exists beyond our planet?

The search for life beyond Earth has been buoyed by recent discoveries made by NASA's Kepler telescope - it's looking for planets outside our solar system known as exoplanets. Kepler measures the brightness of distant stars and tracks a stars dimming when a planet passes in front. Up until 1995, exoplanets were purely theoretical - but scientists have since identified thousands of them.

in July, NASA scientists announced the discovery of one of their most exciting exoplanets yet - Kepler-452B. Located some fourteen thousand light-years away the planet is in the habitable zone which means it's the right distance from its own Sun and also the right size to potentially be earth-like.

There is a limit to how much we can learn about Kepler-452B because of its distance. NASA is launching the James Webb telescope in 2018 to find earth-like planets closer to home so they can study their atmospheres for bio signatures that would indicate the presence of life. But there's another way to learn more about distant planets beyond what the Kepler telescope can tell us, and that is to look for signs of intelligent life.

Frank Drake has been listening out for signals of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe for over 50 years. Mr Drake came up with something called the Drake Equation which is a mathematical formula that estimates how many advanced civilizations capable of transmitting signals might exist in the universe. He co-founded the SETI Institute, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Scientists at the SETI Institute have been searching for intelligent life for the past few decades.

SETI researchers have not come across any signals yet but they say this is to be expected. SETI's efforts recently got a huge boost with a launch of breakthrough Listen, overseen by Martin Rees, Stephen Hawking, and Frank Drake and funded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Yuri Milner. The project will greatly expand the organization's capacity to search and sift through data. But scientists aren't only interested in discovering life forms light-years away. At first glance our solar system seems like a rather unlikely place to find life beyond Earth but the reason scientists think it is plausible is because of the discovery of a group of organisms called extremophiles that live on earth.

Scientists are looking at the moons of Jupiter and Saturn as well as our nearest neighbor Mars. The hope is that if we find further life in our solar system on places like Mars, we will improve our understanding of how easily it might have started elsewhere. But there is another way to answer this question - determining how it started on earth.

One man who is trying to come up with an answer to this question is Jack Szostak. In his lab at Harvard University he's trying to determine how easy it is to create life by making it himself. Modern cells are intricate nano scale factories stuffed with thousands of different chemicals each taking part in a complicated and messy web of reactions. Long strands of DNA and codicils genetic information. Shorter strands of RNA carry that information around the cell telling it how to manufacture the proteins that run the chemical reactions it requires to live. It seems unlikely that these systems all evolved at the same time. At the Szostak lab they're focused on two experiments. One to work out how primitive cell membranes could grow and divide into daughter cells, and the other on RNA replication.

Dr Szostak and his team have already created a protocell from a blob of lipids which contains RNA. The sticking point at the moment is working out how to make RNA that can copy itself without relying on a helping hand from RNA enzymes. If it is a difficult process reliant upon various bits of luck or circumstance then it is possible that we are a cosmic fluke - one that isn't going to be repeated elsewhere. But if experiments like Dr Szostak show that life emerges easily, then the odds of life appearing elsewhere in the universe look more likely.

Perhaps one day when we're looking into the night sky we'll finally know the answer to the question are we alone?

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There's a Killer on the Road | Jim Holt & Tom Vanderbilt

Tom's new book, Traffic
09:32 Is it sometimes dangerous to obey the speed limit?
14:00 Roadside trees are safe; driving sober is dangerous
21:24 Beware a doctor in a new car
27:14 The racy truth about women drivers
32:14 Driving is safer in Europe; biking is safer with a wig on

Jim Holt (The New Yorker, New York Times Magazine) and Tom Vanderbilt (How We Drive)

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Recorded on August 19, 2008

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Why does time advance?: Richard Muller's new theory

A simple question from his wife – Does physics really allow people to travel back in time? – propelled physicist Richard Muller on a quest to resolve a fundamental problem that had puzzled him throughout his 45-year career: Why does the arrow of time flow inexorably toward the future, constantly creating new nows?

That quest resulted in a book to be published Sept. 20, NOW: The Physics of Time (W. W. Norton), that delves into the history of philosophers' and scientists' concepts of time, uncovers a tendency physicists have to be vague about time's passage, demolishes the popular explanation for the arrow of time and proposes a totally new theory.Time has been a stumbling block to our understanding of the universe, said Muller, a UC Berkeley professor emeritus who for many years taught a popular introductory course, Physics for Future Presidents, which he turned into a 2008 book of the same name. Over my career, I've seen a lot of nonsense published about time, and I started thinking about it and realized I had a lot to say from having taught the subject over many decades, having thought about it, having been annoyed by it, having some really interesting ways of presenting it, and some whole new ideas that have never appeared in the literature.

In commenting on the theory and Muller's new book, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, host of the 2014 TV miniseries “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” wrote, Maybe it's right. Maybe it's wrong. But along the way he's given you a master class in what time is and how and why we perceive it the way we do.

Muller’s new idea: Time is expanding because space is expanding.

The new physics principle is that space and time are linked; when you create new space, you will create new time, Muller said.

Time kicked off by Big Bang

Ever since the Big Bang explosively set off the expansion of the universe 13.8 billion years ago, the cosmos has been growing, something physicists can measure as the Hubble expansion. They don't think of it as stars flying away from one another, however, but as stars embedded in space and space continually expanding.
Muller takes his lead from Albert Einstein, who built his theory of general relativity – the theory that explains everything from black holes to cosmic evolution – on the idea of a four-dimensional spacetime. Space is not the only thing expanding, Muller says; spacetime is expanding. And we are surfing the crest of that wave, what we call “now.”

Every moment, the universe gets a little bigger, and there is a little more time, and it is this leading edge of time that we refer to as now, he writes. The future does not yet exist ... it is being created. Now is at the boundary, the shock front, the new time that is coming from nothing, the leading edge of time.

Because the future doesn't yet exist, we can't travel into the future, he asserts. He argues, too, that going back in time is equally improbable, since to reverse time you would have to decrease, at least locally, the amount of space in the universe. That does happen, such as when a star explodes or a black hole evaporates. But these reduce time so infinitesimally that the effect would be hidden in the quantum uncertainty of measurement – an instance of what physicists call cosmic censorship.

The only example I could come up with is black hole evaporation, and in that case it turns out to be censored. So I couldn't come up with any way to reverse time, and my basic conclusion is that time travel is not possible, he said.
Muller's theory explaining the flow of time led to a collaboration with Caltech theoretician Shaun Maguire and a paper posted online June 25 that explains the theory in more detail – using mathematics – and proposes a way to test it using LIGO, an experiment that detects gravitational waves created by merging black holes.
If Muller and Maguire are right, then when two black holes merge and create new space, they should also create new time, which would delay the gravitational wave signal LIGO observes from Earth.


Video by Stephen McNally

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LIGO-SXS-R. Hurt-T. Pyle
LIGO-T. Pyle


Oxygen Garden and Out of the Skies Under the Earth by Chris Zabriskie


Jim Holt - Why Does the World Exist?

March 22, 2013

Jim Holt discusses his book Why Does the World Exist? 'Why is there a world rather than nothing at all?' remains the most curious and enduring of all metaphysical mysteries. Moving beyond the narrower paths of Christopher Hitchens, Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking, celebrated essayist Holt enters this fascinating debate with a broad, lively and deeply informed narrative that traces all our efforts to grasp the origins of the universe. With sly humour and a highly original personal approach, Holt takes on the role of cosmological detective. Suggesting that we might have been too narrow in limiting our suspects to God and the Big Bang, he tracks down, among others, an eccentric Oxford philosopher, a Nobel Laureate physicist, a French Buddhist monk, and novelist John Updike just before he died, to pursue this cosmic puzzle from every angle. As he pieces together a solution -- while offering useful insights into time, consciousness, and eternity -- he sheds fascinating new light on the meaning of existence.

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# 2 Questioning the existence of the universe? by Jim Holt

Why is there something instead of nothing? In other words: Why does the universe exist (and why are we in it)? Philosopher and writer Jim Holt follow this question toward three possible answers. Or four. Or none.COSMIC RADIO ED

When Einstein Walked with Gödel | Robert Wright & Jim Holt [The Wright Show]

2:33 Jim’s new book of essays, When Einstein Walked with Gödel
10:30 The Platonists who believe mathematics is transcendent
21:42 Against viewing math as transcendent
32:05 The implications of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem
40:39 What’s so special about light? Einstein can explain
59:39 Tachyons, the hypothetical particles that travel faster than light
68:22 How Jim became a “rigorous dilettante” (with cameos by B.F. Skinner and Bette Midler)

Robert Wright (, The Evolution of God, Nonzero, Why Buddhism Is True) and Jim Holt (When Einstein Walked with Gödel, Why Does the World Exist?)

Recorded June 11, 2018

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Why Do Diavlogs Exist? | Jim Holt & John Leslie

00:00 How to have immortality without God
16:29 Why does the world exist?
25:56 John describes the best of all possible universes
32:29 Was the cosmos created by physics or ethics?
41:36 Jim thinks we live in a pretty mediocre universe
45:58 The answer to everything and nothing in a pun about something

Jim Holt (The New Yorker, New York Times Magazine) and John Leslie (Immortality Defended)

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Recorded on November 13, 2007

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The Universe As We Know It Shouldn't Exist | The Matter-Antimatter Problem

The universe is a pretty grand place to live, but scientists have one issue with it, it's an anomaly that should be scientifically impossible.

Hosted by: Hank Green

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Why does the universe exist? | Jim Holt

Why does the universe exist? | Jim Holt


Why is there something instead of nothing? In other words: Why does the universe exist (and why are we in it)? Philosopher and writer Jim Holt follows this .

Extraordinary Project Blue Book file film of Alien interviewed in 1964. Subject was named EBE-3 and was held captive for 5 days. Subject disappeared from .

We discuss the meaning of life, free will, alternate universes, and alien lifeforms. Follow me on Twitter @ziasami or tumblr ( or my site .

Live From NECSS 2013 With Jim Holt On Why Does the World Exist?

Why does the universe exist? And is that even a sensical question to ask? Philosopher Jim Holt has written extensively for publications such as the New Yorker, the New York Times and Harper's, and most recently embarked on this existential detective story in his new book, Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story Jim discusses his book with Massimo and Julia in this live episode of Rationally Speaking, taped at the 2013 Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism in New York City.

Why the world does not exist | Markus Gabriel | TEDxMünchen

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)

What if the universe was created just for you? | Assiye Süer | TEDxGöteborg

Süer tells us about her quest of finding life in the universe, about how we originated from the stars and about how unlikely it would be if we were in fact alone. She also turns a curious eye towards the icy moon of Jupiter, suggesting that Enceladus is our best chance of finding life within our own solar system.

Assiye Süer is about to finish her master’s degree in aerospace engineering at Luleå University of Technology.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at

The Origins of the Universe: Why is There Something Rather than Nothing?

Great mysteries still surround the origins and existence of the universe. Physicist Neil Turok, philosopher of physics David Albert, and writer and philosopher Jim Holt discuss with host Steve Paulson the most basic existential question of all: Why are we here?

New York Academy of Sciences
Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Why does the universe exist? | Jim Holt

Why is there something instead of nothing? In other words: Why does the universe exist (and why are we in it)? Philosopher and writer Jim Holt follows this question toward three possible answers. Or four. Or none.

TEDTalks is a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world's leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes (or less). Look for talks on Technology, Entertainment and Design -- plus science, business, global issues, the arts and much more.
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Do we live in a multiverse? | The Economist

It has long been thought that our universe is all there is, but it is possible we may live in just one of many. This is the second in our six-part series on unsolved mysteries in science. Read the accompanying article:

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When the ancients looked into the night sky they thought the heavens revolved around the earth and mankind. over the centuries this view has changed radically.

We discovered we lived on a planet orbiting a star within the solar system and the solar system was found to be part of the Milky Way galaxy. Later we learned that our universe was filled with billions of other such galaxies - but could it be that we're committing the same error as our ancestors by thinking the universe contains everything there is? Could it be that we live in a multiverse?

There are a number of different theories about what the multiverse could be. One proponent of the idea of the multiverse is Dr Tegmark of MIT. Dr Tegmark suggests a four fold classification of possible types of multiverse. The first type of multiverse is just an extension of what we already know our universe expanding into infinity rather than ending at the limits of our vision.

We can look back almost to the beginning of time to the edge of the observable universe, but we can see no further. So the space beyond that distance known as the Hubble radius is literally out of sight. But that doesn't mean there isn't anything there.

Because the expansion of the universe has stretched space, astronomers are able to see out to a distance of about 42 billion light years. How far things extend beyond this is unknown. If they stretch to infinity there could be numerous isolated universes cut off from one another by their own Hubble radius - depending on the observers vantage point.

To understand the second type of multiverse in Dr Tegmark system it is first necessary to understand how the universe was formed and the theory of inflation. It was first conceived of by Alan Guth in 1979 and then later refined and expanded upon by Andrei Linde who had some key insights.

This is one of the ideas of string theory which attempts to unify general relativity with quantum mechanics. The thinking is that all of the solutions produced by string theory that don't match up with what we can see in our own universe, may actually represent reality in other universes.

The anthropic principle is the idea that our universe is fine-tuned to allow humans to live. A small fiddle with the strength of gravity for example and life as we know it would not exist - a coincidence that does not sit easily with scientists. The concept of a multiverse neatly addresses this problem within the infinite number of universes that could exist we are simply living in the one we are able to.

In the third type Dr Tegmark multiverse in the first the laws of physics are the same from one to another. In this type though the component universes are separated not by distance but by time. At every moment within such a multiverse all of the possible futures allowed by the uncertainties of quantum mechanics actually happen.

In the many worlds theory of the multiverse the entirety of the universe acts like the quantum photon, but instead of having two potential future states, every possible outcome would be manifested so our entire universe and everything within it, including you, would be constantly undergoing multiple visions into daughter universes - each with its own reality and future. Any given observer though would only see one outcome.

In the final classification, the level 4 multiverse, Dr Tegmark proposes that all coherent mathematical systems describe a physical reality of some sort. Those different systems are of necessity different universes. What this last idea translates to in practice is hard to conceive of - it is more the province of metaphysics than physics, but the other three types of multiverse though they push the bounds of physical theory do not overstep them. Observational data supporting the theory of inflation have convinced some scientists that a multiverse is possible - but the idea is still controversial.

It may be impossible to ever directly observe the multiverse but some scientists hope to eventually gather enough data supporting the theories that predict it to one day confirm its existence. If that were to happen, like the ancients before us, we would be given a whole new perspective on how the cosmos works and on our place in it.

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Distant time and the hint of a multiverse - Sean Carroll

Cosmologist Sean Carroll attacks -- in an entertaining and thought-provoking tour through the nature of time and the universe -- a deceptively simple question: Why does time exist at all? The potential answers point to a surprising view of the nature of the universe, and our place in it. (Filmed at TEDxCaltech.)

Talk by Sean Carroll.

Why does anything exist? - Fr. Antonios Kaldas & Peter Bowditch

Does time exist? - Andrew Zimmerman Jones

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The earliest time measurements were observations of cycles of the natural world, using patterns of changes from day to night and season to season to build calendars. More precise time-keeping eventually came along to put time in more convenient boxes. But what exactly are we measuring? Andrew Zimmerman Jones contemplates whether time is something that physically exists or is just in our heads.

Lesson by Andrew Zimmerman Jones, directed by Nice Shoes.

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Why Does the Universe Exist?

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